Where were you?
This song always reminds me of where I was on September 11, 2001 . . . "teaching a class of innocent children." It was my first year teaching 5th grade at Willis Middle School. I'll never forget how little my students seemed to me, especially compared to the high school students I was used to teaching.
An office helper brought a folded note to my classroom. Since I was in the middle of teaching a lesson, I thanked the person and placed the note on my desk. The office helper said, "Umm, Ms. Grandits, please read it now." In front of my students, I read that both World Trade Centers had been hit by airplanes in an act of presumed terrorism. Our nation was under attack. All flights were grounded by the FAA but there were other planes in the sky that were not responding to this request. DO NOT tell your students. We don't want to terrify them. Please carry on as usual.
My thoughts flashed to my father who I knew was out of town on business. Was he flying today? Oh my God, please don't let him be flying today.
The cell phone on my hip vibrated. It was my chief of Police. It was the first and only time I've ever answered my cell phone while teaching. He told me to come to work . . . now. Our nation was under attack and we were needed to keep order, just in case. I told him I was in the middle of teaching a class and I would see what I could do after it was over.
My next period was a planning period. When I went to the office to speak to the principal, I was told he was in the library. The office was filled with parents there to pick up their children. On the sign-out sheet, they listed "world situation" as their reason. The sign-out sheet, normally one page, was pages and pages and pages long. I just stood there. Is this really happening? How could this be happening?
When I went to the library, I found my principal and some other teachers crowded into a little closet off the library watching TV footage. I couldn't believe it when I saw the World Trade Centers burning. Horrifying. People were jumping from the buildings. Then they collapsed. How many people were still in there? Oh my God, how many people? The Pentagon had been hit also. New York City looked like a movie set, only it wasn't a movie. It wasn't make believe. We were watching people die on the television but they weren't actors. They were real people. It was like a nightmare but it was very, very real.
Do you remember hearing the shrill? The shrill of the firefighters' alarms, screaming into the black smoke as they lay under the rubble . . . hundreds of them. I'll never forget that sound.
I never asked my principal to leave that day. I knew my students would come back to my classroom after their gym class having already heard the rumors. Most of my students, who were classified as "emotionally disturbed," came from very difficult backgrounds and family situations. I knew their parents were not amongst those who filled the office to the brim with concern and worry. I knew they would go home to empty houses to watch the TV coverage alone. They would be watching as the TV played and replayed airplanes intentionally crashing into buildings occupied by thousands of people. I had to somehow find a way to convince them that everything was going to be ok, even when I wasn't sure of that myself. My police uniform would have to wait . . . I was needed at school with my group of innocent children.
September 11 is about remembering, praying, and thanking God for our heroes. It's about the firefighters and police officers who walked up the stairs of a burning building when everyone else was running out. Would you have the courage to do that . . . to save people you had never met? It is about knowing that the greatest of tragedies provided an amazing opportunity for the human spirit to prevail. They could knock down our buildings but they couldn't take away our love and compassion for each other.
"Faith, hope, and love are some good things HE gave us, but the greatest is LOVE." -Alan Jackson